FESTIVALS exhibitions and performances all around the world in 2016 are set to celebrate the 400-year legacy of William Shakespeare, arguably the finest playwright and poet ever to write in the English language.
All eyes will be on Stratford-upon-Avon this weekend as an exciting programme of activities and events to commemorate its most famous son reaches its climax on 23rd April.
And where else could be better to celebrate Shakespeare’s legacy than the place he was born, went to school, married and raised a family, was inspired to write many of his most famous work and, after his death on 23rd April, 1616, where he was buried in the local church?
The birthday weekend began last night, Friday, with a celebration concert by Ex Cathedra at Holy Trinity Church which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
It featured the world premiere of A Shakespeare Masque, which has been written especially by the Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy, who is also a special guest at this year’s annual Birthday Luncheon.
For Shakespeare’s Celebrations, a local initiative organising the annual Birthday Parade through the town, this year brings a wonderful opportunity to focus on the Bard’s birthday and celebrate with a unique ‘take’ on the traditional Parade, combining birthday and commemoration in a very special way.
Indeed, it promises to be a spectacle like nothing seen before in the history of these annual celebrations, full of music, colour and action for all to watch and enjoy.
Today, Saturday, all the usual participants will be there too, among them civic dignitaries, VIPs and invited guests from the worlds of literature and theatre, students of Shakespeare’s school and characters in period dress, all accompanied by marching bands and local schoolchildren making their way through the streets towards Holy Trinity Church.
One of the star attractions will be a jazz band from New Orleans — a city more associated with jazz than anywhere else in the world.
Before the parade, from 9.30am, students from local schools will be handing out sprigs of fresh rosemary and commemorative Shakespeare face masks to visitors lining the route of the procession.
From 10.15am to 11am primary schoolchildren, staff and students of King Edward’s School (KES), led by the head boy, invited diplomats, civic dignitaries and guests of the town and district councils, will follow the route of the floral tribute.
The main parade will take a route from the Town Hall along Sheep Street, Waterside, Bridge Street, High Street, Chapel Street, Church Street and Old Town to the Church.
Spectators will be able to watch guests and participants join the procession at various times and points around the centre of town, such as Wood Street, Meer Street and Henley Street, and make their way after the Flag Unfurling Ceremony to join the main procession.
The Quill and Flag Unfurling Ceremonies take place as usual in Bridge Street, with the dais positioned near the roundabout outside Barclays Bank.
Flagpoles will be draped in black crepe and the main streets festooned in black and gold bunting, to combine the birthday and memorial themes.
The parade itself will comprise several ‘elements’ reflecting the various moods of the proceedings: The Walk of Remembrance, as participants follow the town’s floral tribute from the Town Hall as far as Bridge Street, to the toll of a funeral bell, spectators will be encouraged to throw rosemary in their path; the traditional, annual birthday ceremonies of the Handing Over of the Quill and the Flag Unfurling; a unique ‘Mask Moment’ for this year’s commemoration of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death when spectators will be invited to don a Shakespeare Face Mask, commissioned especially for the 2016 Celebrations.
Sarah Summers, town clerk and lead organiser of the Birthday Parade, said: “We are introducing some exciting changes to this year’s event which we are confident will bring a new flavour to the 2016 Birthday Celebration Parade but will nevertheless retain the essence of the popular ceremonies at its heart.
“There will be more opportunities for people to see and take part in proceedings.”
In a departure from convention, spectators will see parade participants gather at many places around the town this year.
The ‘mini-parades’ will be escorted through the streets to their flag stations in Henley Street, High Street and Bridge Street. Following the flag unfurling ceremony, the whole procession will continue as one in festival mood along High Street, Chapel Street, Church Street and Old Town to Shakespeare’s resting place at Holy Trinity Church.
Mrs Summers added: “We want the crowds lining the route to join in the ceremony, throwing sprigs of fresh rosemary underfoot as the procession passes by in sombre mood in a walk of remembrance. And later as the party starts we are looking for a photographic moment to savour with our specially-commissioned Shakespeare masks. We need everyone to join in.
“Follow that with a surprise entrance from our guest jazz band, joining our festivities all the way from New Orleans, USA, and you can appreciate it’s not our usual Birthday Parade.”